algorithmic poetry: speculative imagination, machine learning, code studies

da Rhizome :

How do we integrate machine learning algorithms into our poetic practice?

/ Five-week Live* Online class begins 26 April, ends 24 May

/ Every Monday, 8pm-10pm, CET

/ Small class of participants


Course Description

The class aims to merge three different universes: code, literature, and machine learning. We will descend into this Bermuda Triangle of disciplines with a poetic, speculative, and conceptual approach, as well as a technical perspective.

What is the difference between writing with code and writing with text? Is code a new material? What is electronic literature and code poetry? How far the-rabbit-hole can computers take us?

At the beginning of our voyage, we will gain a poetic perspective on how to write code by submerging ourselves into the technical and speculative aspects of creative programming. We will then explore the conceptual cornerstones to think about lite rary texts as perception distorting machines. And finally, we will dwell into the dark territory of pre-trained Machine Learning models to enhance our imagination and generate new forms of writing textual organisms.

In summary, this poetic interpretation of computational logic in creative coding and machine learning will allow us to review concepts and engage with tools to convey new meanings to our writing experiences.

In this course, you will be introduced to:

Web-friendly platforms like p5.js, ml5.js, and Github. We will also address basic programming concepts, web-based interaction, JavaScript snippets, Python snippets, code poetry, electronic literature, and pre-trained machine learning models.

After this month-long program, each participant will have a wide array of concepts and techniques to continue exploring poetic code writing with machine learning alongside their own digital art practice.

Each class will consist of tw o parts:

Part 1: We will conceptually review a topic while also analyze art pieces that focus on that subject. We will explore and discuss methods, perspectives, and approaches to gather information and inspiration for our work.

Part 2: We will discuss reading material and review code exercises to emulate and transform the art pieces observed into our own project development.


Week 1: A moment to get to know each other

To imagine, reflect, and find poetry in our surroundings, it’s essential to take a moment for bonding beyond the screen and break the neverending wheel of production, effectiveness, and stress. We will present ourselves as humans exploring the poetic use of technology and think about us as cultural diplomats practicing radical inclusiveness. There will also be discussions regarding expectations of what you hope to gain from the class and an overview of the workspace, materials, and workflow we will need. We will finally introduce a series of concepts to map out the technical territory we will explore.

Week 2: Code as a poetic material and a creative playground.

We will explore an alternate history of code to review different perspectives on computer symbolic manipulation. We will introduce key technical programming language concepts, and develop metaphors to understand the structure of the code snippets we will use. We will also review a variety of code examples and artists to understand what creative programming entails.

Week 3: Literature as a perceptual distortion machine: ostranenie, randomness, indetermination.

Considered as the first work of electronic literature, The Love Letter Generator (1952) used Alan Turing’s random number generator to create combinatory love letters. Using the Manchester Mark I computer, Strachey, his author, discovered and implemented combinatory literature’s fundamental structures. On the other side of the spe ctrum, Oulipo, a secret and unconventional group founded in 1960, considered that it was not randomness or chance, but the controlled combination between mathematics and language where the future of literature was. They called it potential literature. We will approach different theoretical aspects of literary texts, review critical conceptual notions of electronic literature artworks, and develop our own poetic algorithms.

Week 4: Using Machine Learning to build textual organisms.

Conceived as research on recreating the human mind in the 1950s, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning have introduced a set of tools to augment our imagination. While doing so, it has also engaged in a path to disrupt the way we potentially make decisions, build knowledge, and represent the world around us. We’ll create a conceptual map to understand language-oriented Machine Learning pre-trained models and how to use them in the context of p5.js. At the same, and while gainin g technical skills, we will reflect on the implications of introducing Machine Learning algorithms into our writing practice.

Week 5: Expanding our visual territory and show and tell

We will observe the various visual aspects of code and typography while analyzing historical and contemporary artworks. We will visit artists like Muriel Cooper, Stefanie Posavec, Eduardo Kac, Camille Utterback, etc. We will draw inspiration from their work to think about the different visual possibilities to display our algorithmic writing as interactive texts on the web. In the second half of the class we will share the works we’ve made in class in a final show and tell.